Merchants and Diplomacy in the Thirty Years’ War

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:20 PM
Marriott Balcony A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Erik M. Thomson, University of Manitoba
New diplomatic historians have begun to question the state-centered model of diplomacy, where emissaries merely enabled the policy devised by kings and chief ministers. They, along with other historians of the state, have questioned the limits of early modern states’ formal institutional capabilities, stressing instead informal, personal and provisional arrangements and relations.  Rather than merely complaining how these fluid relations frustrated monarchs’ and ministers’ plans, these historians suggest that such personal relationships in many ways constituted the international system in which sovereigns articulated policies.

Historians have begun to illuminate some of the aspects of these relations, including the society of princes, confessional networks, and the republic of letters which united scholars.  In this paper, I examine the role of merchants and bankers in diplomacy during the Thirty Years War. I focus particularly upon merchants and bankers who specialized in state finance and arms dealing, a category that seems more important given recent reminders that the Thirty Years War was the highpoint for independent military enterprisers. Some of these merchants remained in informal roles, while others received formal accreditation as ambassadors and placed crucial roles in maintaining alliances. I suggest that these merchants possessed capabilities and resources that formal diplomatic institutions could not easily replicate. Beyond their structural assets, I argue that these merchants also possessed a sort of prudence that resembled and even exceeded the arcana of reason of state, and thus contributed to the development of thought about political behavior. This suggests, ultimately, that the elaboration of European state structures and economic development in the early modern period were more than coincidental.